Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

Wild life | 8 October 2011

Aidan Hartley’s Wild Life

Aidan Hartley’s Wild Life

Israel
Jerusalem was once a very sad place for me and I feared returning. I was mad with grief when I was last here in the 1990s. I remember my friend Julian tried to cheer me up by taking me to a gun shop where a South African who had made aliyah gave us M16s and boxes of ammo that we took down to a range to blast away at images of terrorists. It didn’t do any good. I came down with malaria, a parasite hung over from years of reporting African wars. ‘Africa?’ said the Israeli doctor. ‘We’ll run an HIV test. You might have Aids.’ ‘I’ve got malaria.’ He returned an hour later and said, ‘You’ve got malaria.’

In those days I had a girlfriend in Jerusalem. She became so sick of me she spent two weeks shouting as I lay in bed. I didn’t hear a thing. I was on such strong quinine drugs that I went entirely deaf from tinnitus. When I regained strength I packed my stuff and tottered over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was tearfully praying for something good to happen in my life when an Armenian priest came over and tried to pick me up. Then a lunatic assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. It was awful. But while the peace process in the Middle East collapsed, the prayers worked for me at least and here I was again, alive and paunchy at 46, touring the holy sites with a spring in my step.

The next day I crossed into the Gaza Strip with TV producer Richard Cookson to make a documentary. In the 1990s the checkpoint at Erez was a simple affair. Thousands of deaths and missiles later, it has become an outrageous thing to behold: concrete walls, zeppelins, razor wire and machine-gun nests.

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